Government report blames driver for Santiago train crash that killed 79

But judge is also targeting execs at railway manager for failing to install safety mechanisms

The Alvia train after derailing near Santiago de Compostela.
The Alvia train after derailing near Santiago de Compostela.ÓSCAR CORRAL

An expert report commissioned by the government blames the train driver for the derailment that killed 79 passengers near Santiago de Compostela on July 24 of last year. It was Europe’s worst rail accident in recent history.

The cause of the crash was “excess speed resulting from the driving personnel’s failure to comply with speed limit regulations,” according to the Committee of Railway Accident Investigations (CIAF), which answers to the Public Works Ministry.

It has been established that the Alvia train, a hybrid model that can run on regular and high-speed tracks, was going at around 190km/h at the time of the accident when the speed limit at that spot was 80km/h because of an upcoming bend.

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Cabin recordings show that the driver was distracted by a phone call from the conductor, and failed to notice the new speed sign until it was too late. Security footage shows the train taking the turn at high velocity and skidding off the tracks.

But the judge investigating the causes of the train wreck is also targeting executives at Adif, the state railway infrastructure manager, for failing to install the kind of technology that can automatically slow down a train in the event of human error.

Despite laying the blame entirely on train driver Francisco José Garzón, who admitted to his mistake immediately after the crash, the expert report also makes some recommendations to Adif and to railway operator Renfe.

Security footage shows the train taking the turn at high velocity and skidding off the tracks

Chief among these are the installation of new signs warning drivers about sudden speed changes, and security mechanisms to automatically slow down speeding trains if the driver fails to do so. Both recommendations coincide with the reasons that led Judge Luis Aláez to target Adif officials as part of his investigation.

The expert report also calls for a safer internal communications system for train personnel, in order to avoid the kind of phone calls that distracted Garzón.

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